Almost every other weekend for almost 18 years I have had the privilege of tucking a certain young boy and then a young man into bed. Okay, we haven’t called it tucking in for a number of years now, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been there to turn down the TV or turn off the light long after he has fallen asleep. When my nephew Christian was little I used to pull the GI Joe action figures and micro machines out from under the covers so he could roll over without crushing them. Today, it’s more likely to be the remote control and corn chips, but I still sneak in to check on him. He’s grown from a slim sliver of a child into a broad shouldered man, once a tiny comma in the same bed his father once occupied, now a long, slender exclamation point.
Today, he set out to leave his mark on the world, enlisting in the National Guard. His parents, my brother Paul and his high school girlfriend Chesne, traveled with him to watch his swearing in. For months I tried to talk him out of this, wait until you are older, are you sure this is what you want? Not because I’m not proud of him, I am, but because he is our little boy and I never want him to come in harm’s way. I felt the same way about his father, when he, at the age of 33, enlisted last year. They are always our little boys, but, me, and his mother, and his Nana, know that for Christian to become a man we need to let him make his own choices. Every good parent learns this, every good parent feels its sting and ultimately, its payoff.
We will never let go of this kid, but we will let him go off into the world. He carries the best of us with him. It took a whole family to raise him: his grandparents, his parents, their partners, his aunts and uncles, even the family dog – when our pug Buffy died at 12, it was Christian who said “she raised us all,” and she did. We poured all our love into this kid and he’s grown to hold it all. Such love can be smothering, if you’re not strong enough to bear it, he’s iron and honey, steel and grace. He will serve his country well.
And, I will sneak into his room. I did last night after the recruiter drove him away. I found his television still on, so I rummaged for the remote, buried in his unmade bed and turned it off. He will serve his country, but I will continue to serve the boy, long after he has grown, long after he has become a man. I will forever be checking to make sure he is safe.